David Swanson Lectures in Hawaii

Sociology professor David A. Swanson presented an invited lecture about the population of 18th century Hawai’i as part of the University of Hawai’i Sociology Colloquium Series on Feb. 13.

Swanson, who served as a member of the U.S. Census Bureau’s Scientific Advisory Committee for six years and chaired the group for two years, discussed “A New Estimate of the Hawaiian Population for 1778, the Year of First European Contact.”

The demographer said estimates of the size of the Hawaiian population at the time of first European contact range from less than 300,000 to 800,000. Swanson added a new number to this set with an empirically based estimate of 681,000 based on a standard demographic forecasting method run in reverse. His new estimate provides support to those who believe that lower estimates downplay the extent of the genocidal effect of European diseases such as syphilis, tuberculosis, and influenza on a population that had no experience with them until Captain Cook arrived.

“It is not surprising that uncertainty would surround the number of Hawaiians, a pre-literate population, at the time of first European contact in the year 1778,” he says. “No known census of this population at that time exists and without a full count, the only recourse is to estimate the size of this population. Even the estimates based on data and for which methodological descriptions are available, however, represent attempts to reconstruct the Hawaiian population in 1778 using information available at the time of European contact or earlier. These estimates include the use of counts of houses in villages visited or observed by the Europeans, their estimates of average household size, and extrapolation of these estimates to all of Hawai’i.

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